Armchair Linguist

An amateur linguist drinks strong coffee and makes interesting observations about language from the comfort of his armchair.

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Location: United Kingdom

Saturday, July 10, 2004

My first critic

"Who on earth wrote that trash?" asked the message that appeared in my MSN window. Unaware that I was the author of "that trash", my friend unwittingly became this blog's first critic.

Said epithet was being applied specifically to my comments about Bill Cosby.

One thing that irks me terribly (and I must admit it has irked me particularly in conversations I have had in the past with this friend on the subject of the English language) is people who take great pride in the way they speak English, but then proceed to deny others the same right, riding roughshod over the way they speak English. In this case, my friend, a Southern-talking Mississippian and rightly proud of it, won't even acknowledge African-American English as an English variant.

All talk about the logistics of African-Americans getting ahead in society without learning "standard English" aside, this boils down not to whether it is economically and socially advantageous for an African-American to change the way she talks, but whether anyone has the right, as Mr Cosby assumes, to write off the language of an entire ethnic group as "crap". A Frenchman, for example, might well have to learn to speak "standard English" if he were to become a doctor in the US, but imagine the outcry if I were to write of the French language, "You can't be a doctor with that kind of crap coming out of your mouth!"

It's unnecessary and it's prejudiced. African-Americans have a heritage that includes a distinct language just as any community or ethnic group does. Linguists seem to know this. Even my friend seems to know this in principle when it comes to her ethnic group, her heritage. It's just a matter of affording that same respect to speakers of other variants of the English language. And until that basic respect is established, I am not sure arguments in favour of learning "standard English" deserve to be heard.

14 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i'm not a native mississippian (i'm from georgia), and you have misunderstood and misrepresented my argument entirely!

scarlet :)

11 July 2004 at 03:59  
Blogger Armchair Linguist said...

I don't think I laid out your arguments other than to say you agreed with Cosby and denied the legitimacy of such a thing as African-American English, did I?

11 July 2004 at 08:40  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i did not have time the other day for a proper (heated) discussion...i feel i have been mischaracterized by your comments.

scarlet :)

11 July 2004 at 14:29  
Blogger Armchair Linguist said...

Well, come on and spit it out, then. :)

11 July 2004 at 14:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i was raised to never spit in public!

scarlet :)

12 July 2004 at 01:06  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You two are gone with the wind. ;)

12 July 2004 at 01:37  
Blogger william said...

talking words, I find it intersting their mixture ,creation,,hold overs from previous
exposure, cultures. REcently having been exposed to blackinner city dialect. Tehy talk alot about
"who you're studying". They necesitate alot more
verbal response than I'm used to,"talk to me".

Thinking about their different words and creativity
I wonder about the Romance languages, that grew out
of Latin,,how now that lanugage is dead and Spanish/Italian etc are going on. It seems they romance the kings english alot more than some,,in song and just in conversation.

10 years ago taking a german class in the college,,
i noticed the similiarites in some of the greetings
of high german and the olderafrican american janitorial staff. I beleive the english was something like "Fine thank you" as a salutation really before there was even a question on my part. I forgot the corresponding German but exposure is a bigpart of it I think. probably timestampin the german teacher --old guy-in his 60s/70sand the german written in text with
the older folks- german and latin having alot of the archaic formats,,interesting to understand more of all
that grammar



Heard on the radio it was truckdrivers that were increasing the growth of the english language mostly. Figure the pigeon from the otherworlds will be
great diversifier as well as the melding of spanish/english going on now. the creation of the
new turns of phrase i find most interesting,,kinda like
storytellin in a way. language demonstrating the multiple intelligences, not the lack of. i think alot of whats being said is just different format not yet catalogued documented in the High/Low game folks often play. maybe a good medium will turn up the volume for this interchange/deluge of exponential growth going on.

learning a newlanguage everyday oldschool meets the newschool,,what to echo? which identity to call out?
bill cosby just seeing things from his perspective as professional,,indeed his monies were built on atleast a portion of his romanticizing /skiffling /skatting /humor
onomotopeas of everyday life. think for the most part its what and where you're trying to function,,
maybe bill's speaking to those trying to lift themselves into integrated system, and trying to communicate the need to interact outside comfort zone in multiplicity of intelligences that are there just not being exercised,,you're mama speaks urdu and you're dadda speaks tamil why not have the kid versed so as to Speak Louder than ever before as Mass Communique. It's beneficial knowing how to drive the manual transmission first and then the automatic, learning to park on a hill and in between cars downtown, but we must all start out in driveway learning our mirrors and what limitations are before hitting the autobahn/highway/interstate.
big Ups

15 July 2004 at 18:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, shut up, you bleeding heart socialist liberals

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